When I first met Abel Soriano Pineda at B&B Boxing Academy, I couldn’t help but wonder what goes through the mind of a boxer while preparing for a fight? I wanted to know how he stays motivated, disciplined and focused? I wanted to know what keeps him going after getting knocked down? I thought to myself, maybe we (the non boxing world) could apply some of the same principles fighters learn to compete in their sport, to our every day lives to help with the struggles and challenges we experience trying to achieve our own personal goals.
Recently, I was given the opportunity to spend some time with Abel before an upcoming fight and thrilled that I was able to attend the fight just last week and watch him win his flyweight division, by unanimous decision! A re-match; nonetheless, that was first fought two years ago in Omaha.
Abel grew up in Atlanta but finished high-school in Omaha attending Bryan High. Before and during his fight last week, I was not only a spectator, but a keen observer. I noticed an amazingly strong family unit, four siblings; Cristina, Eric, Karina and Sofia – and incredible support system among friends and teammates. I have learned through the years, that surrounding yourself with great people can only lead to great things – one of the many lessons motivational and leadership speakers will tell you, “You are who you associate with.” Always surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher. Abel has succeeded at that.
When you meet Abel, you are instantly drawn to him. His smile is highly contagious and when you speak with him, he usually speaks of others and takes the focus off himself. He is very humble and genuine and strives to make his family proud. I asked Abel some questions after his big win to learn how his champion attitude could be applied to our everyday lives.
CTM: What were you like as a kid? What did you like to do?
Abel: I was a real outgoing kid. I always liked to be outside on my bike and trading collectible cards with the neighbors.
CTM: How did you get into the sport?
Abel: At an early age, my father took me to a Taekwondo gym while living in Atlanta. I liked it a lot but wanted to compete more. Growing up, my father always bought the big PaperView fights and I remember trying not to fall asleep while watching because I wanted to watch the main events, but they didn’t come on until late at night. When my family moved to Omaha, my father saw an ad in the paper about boxing and so we checked it out – rest is history.
CTM: Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
Abel: My biggest inspiration is my Mother. I watched growing up how hard she worked to achieve things.
*Findings by a team of Wayne Baker, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Kathryn Dekas, a people analytics manager at Google who was once Baker’s PhD student, concluded parents are the single most significant factor in determining their child’s work orientation. And the closer your bond, the more likely you are to follow their lead-regardless of it being in a different industry.
CTM: What has this sport done for your confidence and self worth?
Abel: Boxing has given me the mentality that hard work can go a long way. Knowing that I am committed to doing what it takes and working hard before every fight allows me to step into the ring confident!
*Boxing is unique from other sports, as a fighter must stand alone inside the ring. A fighter is solely responsible for his/her success. On top of that, boxing requires a lot of physical work and when you improve your physical condition, you improve your mental and emotional well being. With each fight, win or lose, a boxer grows more and more confident in their skill set and is mentally tougher. They are exposed and raw in the ring, self-doubts need to be pushed aside and most find an inner strength they have never experienced before.
CTM: What about this sport do you like the most?
Abel: I gained another family. My boxing team is like family to me. We help each other along the way, hold each other accountable and share in triumphs and victories.
*The relationship between a boxer and his trainer is pretty remarkable. It is having more faith in a person than you ever imagined. Muhammed Ali once said, “The work is done behind the scenes, long before you ever get to the ring.” To posses great talent, train hard and prepare mentally is one thing, you still need to find someone who can unlock your true potential. Most boxers will tell you, the friendship they have with their trainer is one of their most important relationships.
CTM: How often do you train?
Abel: When I have an upcoming fight scheduled, I will train 2-3 times a day!
*The United States Olympic Committee ranked boxing as the most difficult of 60 sports due to its high demands of endurance, speed and durability. A fighter must be in the best shape possible before they take that first fight. The training is usually set up to maximize physical conditioning and skill development. Most importantly, is who you surround yourself with while training. A fighter needs coaches who will be honest with them about their progress. A coach will expect an amateur fighter to run three-to-five miles without getting tired, jump rope for at least 30 minutes and hit the heavy bag for 15 minutes straight.
CTM: How do you talk yourself into training on days you don’t have it in you?
Abel: Knowing that my opponent is coming to take my head off is enough to push me to train!
* For most fighters, the decision needs to come from deep inside. There will always be fighters who sleep, and others who wake – those who give a little and those who give it all at the gym. There are days when some would rather not train. Mentally, a champion pushes past those feelings because he knows there is no one to make the decision for him. The best trainers in the world are only as good as the students they train.
CTM: When you step in the ring, how do you focus, what do you think about?
Abel: My focus comes from knowing that my siblings and teammates are close by watching and supporting me and they all want to see me do good. I want to win for them.
*Boxing involves managing discomfort. Emotional and attentional control are crucial to success. Research indicates that successful fighters demonstrate positive emotional profiles before competition. Such studies typically assess emotions an hour before competition and then compare winners and losers by emotional profiles. The accuracy of these predictions of winners from pre-contest emotions is incredibly high. In one study, it was possible to predict winners with 95% accuracy.
CTM: Can you hear the coaches and fans yelling when you fight or do you tune it all out?
Abel: As far as the fans, I try to tune all of them out and just focus on on my coaches voices.
CTM: How do you not get intimidated by your partner? How do you stay calm? When I saw you before this last fight, you were so relaxed and said, “It’s just another day.” Have you always stayed calm before matches and how do you not psych yourself out?
Abel: I stay calm just by knowing I’ve prepared myself to the best of my ability . I wasn’t always this calm, but after being in training camps with world Champ and role model, Terence Crawford, it really just is another day since we are being pushed to bring out the best in us.
*Although boxing is extremely physical, the mental aspect of the sport is exhausting. Of course, an amateur boxer with little competitive experience is going to exhibit some type of fear. His fear stems from apprehension and anxiety toward a future event, triggered from the possibility of physical pain and the anguish of defeat. However, familiarity with a given circumstance boosts confidence and helps a fighter become less anxious prior to a fight, leaving a new fighter less nervous about entering the ring as he gains more experience.
CTM: What separates you from other fighters in your weight class?
Abel: Well, I don’t think you can say there is much separating me since I’m not a World Title Holder (yet). But as of now, you can say its my hunger that separates me from the rest.
CTM: If you could fight anyone, who would that be and why?
Abel: The greatest fighters of the smaller weight classes from a past era, Ricardo “Finito” Lopez. He had twenty-one successful title defenses so stepping into the ring would be a blessing with such a decorated, successful champ.
CTM: What’s more important to you, the money or the glory?
Abel: The Glory
CTM: What did you feel last week after winning the fight? Explain what went through your head when they said your name?
Abel: The first thing I thought was, I wonder if my dad is up so I can share the news (he lives in Mexico).
CTM: Tell us why that fight was so important.
Abel: It was important because we had fought two years ago and my opponents team felt I should not have won, that is was a closer fight per the scorecards. They were looking for justice this year, clarification, a re-match. Because it’s early in my career, all fights are important to get my name out there so I was happy to accept the offer.
CTM: What type of food do you need to eat to stay fit and in your best shape?
Abel: Lots of chicken and seafood! We try to stay away from red meat as it takes the body longer to digest.
*For boxers, as with any sport, a good diet is a crucial part of staying in shape and keeping up with the demands of the training regime. As much as a boxer needs muscle and power behind them, they are conditioned by the weight restrictions of their weight class, so it is crucial that they have the right diet to ensure they have enough energy to undertake fights and intensive training sessions. Most boxers aim to stay within 3-5 % of their ideal fighting weight during their training in order to avoid having to lose weight drastically as a fight approaches. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are all staples in a boxer’s diet for providing the energy and nutrition one needs to compete. Fried foods, foods high in sugar, saturated fat and processed foods may provide the boxer with high bursts of energy, but are short-lasting energy sources and will cause the boxer to feel tired, sluggish and to put on unwanted weight.
CTM: What do you do differently now that was learned that you did not do at the beginning of your boxing career?
Abel: I do a lot more cardio now, something I wasn’t into very big when I first begun boxing. It is important because studies show that (1) 3 minute round of boxing is equivalent to 45 minute halves of a soccer game. Boxers endure through stamina – we need to think clearly and stay focused throughout the entire fight.
*Having strong muscles won’t do you any good if your body can’t absorb oxygen fast enough to fuel your muscles. Muscles need oxygen in order to break down glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream to create energy. The higher your oxygen intake, the more oxygen your muscles can absorb and the more glucose you will be able to take advantage of. A strong cardio program helps a fighter perform more more physical exercises without getting out of breath.
CTM: How do you prevent your muscles from tensing up during a fight with all that adrenaline?
Abel: I make sure I am properly stretched and warmed up by shadow boxing and running combinations on the pads with my coach minutes before stepping into the ring.
*The increase in body temperature resulting from a proper warm-up before a fight has been linked to improved performance. Increased body and muscle temperature and increased heart rate, leads to an increase of blood flow to skeletal tissues. This combination impacts boxing performance in its aerobic portion, by improving the efficiency of oxygen uptake and carbon dioxide removal.
CTM: Do you have any fear?
Abel: Fear is something I try not to focus on.
*Fear is healthy and keeps many of us doing things that could severely impact us physically when not properly trained. The trick is to maintain a level of fear that provides the benefits of the emotion without allowing it to become all-consuming. As Mike Tyson said, “Fear is your friend.” However, when we let fear get out of control, it quickly becomes our enemy.
CTM: Take us through the training week leading up to the fight – in between work and family, give us an idea on how often you trained.
Abel: Mornings start by dropping sister off at school, then head to morning workout about 8am doing strength and conditioning workouts for about forty minutes. Afterwards, I usually go home, eat, rest and get ready to go into boxing practice from 2-430pm. Straight from the boxing gym, I take off on a 3-mile run. I run that schedule Monday-Saturday. With some training camps I will take a yoga class too.
CTM: Where do you go from here? What are your goals for the next 5 years?
Abel: I will keep fighting and building on to my name and fight record. My goal is to be a World Champion!
CTM: When is the next fight?
Abel: I’m looking to fight here in the next 5 to 6 weeks . Usually at the early stage of a pro career, we try to stay busy in the ring.
CTM: If someone is struggling with focus, discipline and goals, what advise would you give them to help them break out of their hole?
Abel: Just make sure whatever you are doing is something your are very passionate about and love. That on its own, will give you all the Drive, Focus and Self Motivation you will need to chase your goals and achieve.
*In competitive sports, when you decide in your heart, that you want to succeed, your mind will take over. You begin to make whatever you are doing, your sole purpose in life. You eat, sleep, and dream to be the best. If you don’t, rest assured that someone else will. You are a warrior, you train like a warrior and you must become both mentally and physically strong – stronger than the others. We all face fear and doubt, but with discipline, proper training, experience (wins and losses) and a solid support team, we learn to manage those feelings and move forward.
You can follow Abel on Facebook (Abel Soriano) or Instagram: sosori_ano.
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The Hitman: My Story. Ebury Press, UK, 2007